Todd Rundgren – State
In 1973, at the apex of his fame, Todd Rundgren christened his new record – and, by implication, himself – A Wizard, a True Star. The album, which Rundgren recorded after he’d released the hit-filled, double LP Something/Anything? in 1972, demonstrated that he could seemingly do anything and everything – as a producer, songwriter, arranger, singer, and multi-instrumentalist.
Rundgren effortlessly moved from Something/Anything?’s big pop hits such as “I Saw the Light” and “Hello It’s Me” to the adventurous progressive rock of Wizard in the same way that Brian Wilson moved from the emotional baroque pop of Pet Sounds in 1966 to the innovative psychedlia of SMiLE in 1967.
Writing about her friend and future producer’s Wizard in Creem, Patti Smith said, “Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation.”
Dream in animation – Smith’s words couldn’t have been more prophetic. Punk’s prophet, of course, knew then what has come to pass: with each passing record, the Wizard continues to create the unexpected, to conjure sonic images that enter our ears and animate our souls with music we haven’t heard the likes of before.
The new record – State – is no different. It challenges, satisfies, and makes you ask the question central to all mind-blowing music, “How did that person come up with that all that stuff?” There’s mystery in State; there’s love in State; there’s a challenge in State.
Opening track “Imagination” sets the tone for the rest of the album – and, simultaneously, reminds us of all the reasons we love Todd in the first place. The song simply jumps out of the speakers, with an electronic dance groove that could have come from Skrillex (a major influence on the album). But just when you think that you know the song – that you know what Rundgren is up to – metal guitars blast your way. And, once again, Rundgren has created a new sonic landscape for you to inhabit and explore.
Lyrically, the song uses irony to explore the lack of imagination that Rundgren feels abides today – in music, politics, everyday thinking: you name it. But what’s really cool about this track is that it also functions as a deeply personal statement that smacks of the Wizard’s fear of one day perhaps losing his magic – of having his own imagination dry up. This track is as introspective as anything that appears on Hermit of Mink Hollow.
The rest of State follows along in the same musical exploratory vein, while it lyrically taps Todd’s fears and presents them as cautionary tales. After all, by the time the record concludes, Rundgren is no longer the Wizard; he’s “Sir Reality” (as he calls himself on the album’s final cut), and Sir Reality knows the State of things.
Cool examples abound:
“Angry Bird” – in which Sir Reality crafts an electronic fun fest, in which he not only mimics the sounds of the popular video game but warns us against the Republican Party’s so-called “War on Women.”
“Something From Nothing” – in which Sir Reality sings a beautiful tune about faith. But it doesn’t take many repeated listens to realize that the song is really anti-faith. “Something” is another cautionary tale about how having too much faith can paralyze a person, artist, and/or government from taking any real action. (Incidentally, “Something” is the only track on State on which another musician – vocalist Rachel Haden – performs).
“Collide-A-Scope” – in which Sir Reality combines heavy guitars and industrial electronics to comment on the dangers of not having an integrated self. How, he asks, can a “Collide-A-Scope” self have the psychological coherence and authenticity to do anything creative – anything that comes from the imagination?
“In My Mouth” – in which Sir Reality creates what’s probably the best dance groove on the record, only to criticize our growing reliance on experts to tell us how we feel.
What Rundgren pulls off on State is astonishing. He amalgamates some of the most culturally, personal, and socially critical lyrics of his career with some of his most joyous and innovative music. Definitely his best album since Liars, State shows that whether Rundgren is the Wizard or Sir Reality, he’s one of pop’s all time greatest maestros.